The mistakes probably weren’t noticed by most of the hardworking students, proud parents and beaming teachers across the country, but in several Ohio cities, those people were hit hard. Soon after Newsweek’s 2010 America’s Best High Schools list came out, several discrepancies were called into light — one of which directly affected a place that is near and dear to my heart: Lakewood, Ohio.
The excitement Lakewood residents felt after being told Lakewood High School was named #229 in the country’s top 1,600 schools was premature — due to a glitch in Newsweek’s list, that number was assigned to two Lakewood High Schools, and the only one actually holding the spot was located in Lakewood, Colorado. Turns out, Ohio’s Lakewood High didn’t make the list at all.
The reference to Lakewood High in Ohio is an error. I have no data from that high school in my data base. It is clear that the data we have displayed on the list applies only to Lakewood High in Lakewood, Colo. We will remove the reference to Lakewood High in Ohio as soon as possible.
Even as educators, students and parents in (Ohio’s) Lakewood reacted to the disappointing news, several other Ohio high schools were affected as well. An article by The Columbus Dispatch reported that Independence High School in Columbus, Ohio was listed in the 1,594th spot, only to be later informed the slot had been intended for a high school of the same name in Independence, Ohio.
Yet another mistake affected Shaker Heights High School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in the opposite way — although the school’s score should have placed it among the top 2 percent of high schools in the country, well within the bounds of the list’s scope, another oversight kept the school from being included on the list. Surprisingly, however, Mathews’ response to this error was slightly different; Sun News reporter Faith Hampton describes him as “drenched in shame.” In this article, Mathews was quoted as saying:
The fact that the school is not listed in the initial version of the list is entirely our fault. A few other great schools around the country have also suffered from communication breakdowns between the data gatherer, me, and the fine folks who put up the numbers on Newsweek.com. … I hope the school — one of the finest and most interesting in the country, who welcomed me kindly when I visited, who helped inspire this list in the first place — will eventually forgive me.
I’ll avoid bristling too much over Mathews’ dismay for his Shaker Heights blunder in light of his equal lack of apology for the Lakewood oversight because I know that Shaker Heights High is a great school as well, but Newsweek’s responses, mistakes and the list’s initial makeup indicate some serious problems.
I’ll be the first to admit that, in the attempt to catalog (according to my calculations) more than 26,000 high schools nationwide, Newsweek takes on a great and commendable challenge. However, it would seem this challenge has proved to be, in fact, too great.
It’s interesting to note the criteria Newsweek uses to compile this list. The only data compiled is the total number of Advanced Placement , International Baccalaureate or Cambridge tests given by a school, as well as the total number of graduating seniors. While these tests are certainly a good measure of a school’s initiative and success, it’s impossible to use only that one factor in judging a school’s effectiveness. Yet this is what Newsweek attempted to do.
Second, in addition to the three mistakes encompassing Ohio (and Colorado), Newsweek’s list also misrepresented White Station High School in Memphis, Tennessee; Heritage High School in Lynchburg, Virginia; and several schools in Seattle, Washington. My online search was far from comprehensive, and it’s certainly possible that other errors were made as well.
Lakewood High wasn’t the only one that didn’t make it into Mathews’ database. In Newsweek’s FAQ addressing the process used to compile the list of high schools, Mathews acknowledges the possibility that not all high schools in the United States were included in his research, saying, “We are happy to capture the few schools we missed by using the publicity generated by the new list.”
I believe him; I really do. As in the case of Shaker Heights, there have already been several reports of Mathews’ willingness to correct these errors. But what does the need for all these corrections really say? Just what efforts did Newsweek originally make to obtain the greatest amount of information possible, in the fairest way possible? Are there really only a “few schools” that weren’t counted? Will Lakewood High see its day on Newsweek’s list? Do we even want that anymore?
In a scathing article by Lakewood Observer’s publisher, Jim O’Bryan, Newsweek is denounced pretty soundly. O’Bryan describes the quest to “(run) Newsweek out of town” by convincing residents to cancel their subscriptions, going so far as to suggest an “ad hoc ‘Burn Newsweek party.’”
Lakewood’s response may be considered extreme by some, but it’s a strong representation of a major mistake on Newsweek’s part. O’Bryan accuses Newsweek of struggling:
The fact is that Newsweek is for sale, and they’re getting desperate because no one’s interested in coming to the firesale.
If Newsweek is on a quest to up its readership and sales, this year’s list set the publication back a step or two. In a time when journalism is struggling, and the industry is being asked to redefine itself, integrity, accountability and trustworthiness are key. Publishing a list that — at its best — would still be controversial, and then allowing it to go through with at least a half dozen mistakes, is nothing short of unacceptable. Mathews’ response to the White Station High School incident — “We better do much better next time.” — pretty much sums it up.
This post seems especially fitting the day after a stellar performance by Lakewood High’s one-of-a-kind rock orchestra, The Lakewood Project. Thousands of Lakewood residents were there to cheer for the ensemble, considered by most who have seen it one of the highlights of a great school — along with Lakewood’s “Excellent” academic rating and its award-winning student newspaper, The Lakewood Times.
Am I biased? Absolutely. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a Lakewood resident. I graduated from Lakewood High School. And I was a member of both The Lakewood Project and The Lakewood Times. Rather than weakening my case, however, I think my experience with Lakewood High only serves to make my argument all the stronger.
While announcing The Lakewood Project at its popular 4th of July concert, one of its founders said, “That Newsweek magazine got it wrong. We are the best high school in the country.”
And as much as I’d normally hate to go against fellow journalists, I’m inclined to agree.